Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chapter 20

Chapter Twenty:

           Christine never did take the stage again, preferring to live quietly. A year had passed since that first day she’d spent with her Phantom; a year of growth and healing, happiness and love. With the help of Madame Giry and the Persian, Erik purchased a modest home on the outskirts of Paris where he and his Christine were wed in a private ceremony. He stepped forward as the owner of the Palais Garnier and, under his direct control and using his compositions, the opera house thrived. His wife joined him there as a vocal coach, having learned from the very best. 
          It took time and patience for Christine to completely move beyond the violence perpetrated against her. There were many nights she soared in her husband’s embrace on the wings of love and passion; but there were also nights where something – a thought, a touch, a sound – would bring the memories flooding back and she’d fight to get free. As the years marched onward, those nights became fewer and fewer until she gave little thought to the events of the past. The birth of their first child drew her back to church and, for her son's sake, she struggled to regain her faith. It was a struggle she never fully won. 
          The Devereauxs had a total of eight children, of which three bore some variation of Erik’s deformity though none were as prominent as his. The first to be so marked sent her husband into such a black pit of despair that Christine feared he’d never emerge. When he finally broke free of his self-loathing depression, he’d written several gloomy compositions that he immediately trashed. She, of course, recovered them and they became quite popular with the orchestras across Europe. 
          With the dawning of a new century, Erik and Christine retired to their country home, having sold the Garnier. Together they had watched the construction of the Eiffel Tower and the Pont Alexandre III and mourned their oldest child, killed during the Great Flood of 1910 while trying to save his fiancée. Erik, already weakened by age and illness, never fully recovered from losing one of his precious children and Christine laid him to rest in the mausoleum at the outer edge of the rose garden in the spring of 1914. When the war began later that year, the Devereaux children tried to convince her to move to the city where she would be safe. She refused to leave her home and her beloved Phantom, however, and died there during the Battle of the Marne. Christine was laid to rest beside her savior, her friend, her husband, her love… her Phantom of the Opera.


Chapter 19

Chapter Nineteen:

           The door loomed like a living thing before her and fear kept her away from it. Christine wasn't sure if it was fear of remaining sequestered in the room with nothing but her thoughts for company or fear of going to Erik not knowing what he was thinking or how he felt. Madame Giry had tried to explain that she’d done nothing wrong, but how could that be so? As scared and disgusted as she’d been to have Gachot’s evil hands on her body, once he’d placed his tongue…. She shuddered, once more feeling nauseous as she remembered her body’s reaction. Surely this was God’s punishment for her sins. Opening the door, she walked towards the den like a man condemned to the gallows. 
          In the doorway, she watched the fluid grace of her host as he paced before the fireplace. Even agitated, he was poetry in motion, and she felt her heart stutter oddly as she watched him. Erik Devereaux was a fine man who deserved far more than a home in the cellars of the opera house. He also deserved someone much better than her; a fact that caused her increasing amounts of pain to consider. Christine was unable to stop the small sigh that passed her lips as she pictured her phantom with a lovely diva on his arm, but it was enough to alert him to her presence. 
          “Please, mon ange, do not lurk about in the doorway.” The barest of smiles curled the edge of his lips as he motioned her towards a seat by the fire. “Would you care for a drink, perhaps?” 
Christine shook her head as she sat on the very edge of the chair, nervous in his presence for the first time since their initial meeting. Would he send her away? Is that why he wished to speak to her? But no, he said she was always welcome but that could have been mere politeness. Erik was, after all, the very epitome of a gentleman. Considering what had happened, what he’d seen at the warehouse, perhaps he wished to ask her to remain in a quite different capacity. It must get exceedingly lonely in the cellars. The question was… would she? With the effortless grace of his every movement, his passion for his music, and his gentleness and kindness to her, Erik would no doubt be a considerate lover. Oh yes, she very much believed she would take him up on his offer if only to be able to remain by his side for a while longer. 
“Christine?” Startled at the feel of his hand gently brushing against her cheek, she realized he’d been calling her name. 
“Yes, Monsieur?” The blush on her cheeks rivaled the brilliance of the fire that burned in the hearth at where her thoughts had traveled. 
           “Might I ask what thoughts hold your attention so completely?” Christine’s eyes widened and she shook her head almost desperately. He looked as if he wanted to argue but, instead, sat back in the chair he’d taken across from her and picked up his drink. “As you wish, my dear. Angelique and I were wondering if you had any plans now that Gachot is no longer a threat. First, however, let me reiterate that I meant it when I said you’d always be welcome in my home, so do not think I wish for you to leave. If you wish to train and take the stage, I will be more than honored to aid you in that endeavor. If you would like to return to Sweden, I will ensure you have the funding and a proper escort. If you would like to live quietly outside of Paris, that can be arranged as well. You do not have to make your decision now, mon ange, so please don’t feel that you must. These offers shall remain open indefinitely.” 
          “Why, Monsieur? Why would you go to so much trouble for a common wh…” The dangerous flash in his eyes sent a shiver down her spine and she abruptly changed the directions of her thoughts. “um…for me?” 
          “Do not ever refer to yourself in such an insulting, degrading manner again!” The anger that bled through his usually cultured and melodic tones struck her like sharpened knives and she winced under their force. Leaning forward with his fisted hands on his knees and the flames from the hearth reflected in his golden eyes, he was a panther ready to pounce on his prey. The aura of danger surrounding him was truly frightening, and she sank further back into her chair. “I would kill anyone else who so much as insinuated what you just have, but neither will I stand it from you. You have done nothing wrong, my angel. Nothing! Not two years ago, not last night.” Erik leaned forward and cupped her cheek to hold her so she couldn't look away. “Do not take on shame you do not deserve, my love, for the natural physical reactions of your body. Is it wrong to appreciate a delicious meal? Does it upset you when the cold makes you shiver and affects your body in other ways? When the time comes that you fall in love, my Christine, you’ll understand that…desire and lovemaking are far more than mere chemical and physical reactions.” 
          Captured by the gentle pressure of his hand on her cheek and the tenderness in his eyes, Christine thought she was beginning to understand. No other’s touch had ever made her feel like this; every place his skin met hers tingled with a warmth and awareness that spread throughout her body. Erik was a dangerous man, of that she had no doubt, but even when he frightened her with his temper she still felt safer with him than with anyone else. Only her papa had ever made her feel that way. Erik had never lied to her, never tried to touch her inappropriately, and his one kiss had upset him far more than it had her. Madame Giry had said much the same thing concerning her reaction to Gachot. She even went so far as to cite it as the cause for so many of her ballerinas getting into trouble with men, for they mistook a natural physical reaction for love. Had it been normal? She couldn't be certain but what she did know was that she didn't want to leave the house on the lake, nor its alluring owner, until she found out if she was as damned as she feared. Covering his hand with hers, she gave in to temptation and turned her face slightly to place a soft kiss into his palm. 
          “I want to understand, Erik; I want to believe. And…and I do not want to leave you.” Afraid to look at him, Christine couldn't help but feel the shudder that went through Erik’s body. Devastated that she’d repulsed him with so simple a touch, she quickly removed his hand from her face and stood to leave. Murmuring a broken apology, she quickly headed for the sanctity of the bedroom as tears spilled from eyes already raw from crying. She never even made it out of the den before Erik’s gentle, but unyielding, hands grasped her shoulders to stop her flight.


          The softness of Christine’s lips against the sensitive skin of his palm sent a shudder of pure delight throughout his body. He was about to promise her that she never need leave him again should she so desire it when suddenly she was apologizing and on her way out of the room. Confused, Erik quickly followed and stopped her before she could leave the room. He could see the candlelight reflecting off the tears on her cheeks and wondered just what had happened to upset her. 
          “Christine? What’s wrong, mon ange; what did Erik do to upset you so?” Gently turning her around to face him, he pulled her into a loose embrace and stroked her hair. Had his touch reminded her of her abuse at the hands of the Comte? But if so, then why did she apologize to him? 
          “You did nothing, Monsieur. It is I who was foolish.” Slipping from his arms and drying her eyes with the handkerchief Erik had pressed into her hand, Christine took a steadying breath, fixed a pleasant smile on her face, and dared to look into his stormy golden eyes. “I misjudged things and acted without thought. Now that I know how…how distasteful you find my touch, I promise you that it will never happen again.” 
          Erik could do nothing but stare. Distasteful? She thought he found her distasteful? Pulling her back into his arms, he nearly groaned from the press of her body to his. “Christine…oh my love, you have it all wrong.” Erik buried his face in the mass of curls at her neck and fought the urge to throw her onto the sofa and show her just how much he did enjoy her touch. “So very wrong. I do not find your touch to be distasteful; the problem is that I yearn for it with every fiber of my being. It’s an ache inside me that never ends, never lessens. The feel of your lips granting me the first willing kiss of my wretched life very nearly unmanned me, my dear, and I was desperately trying to remain a gentleman.” 
          “Truly?” Christine’s voice shook as she clutched at him, afraid to believe. 
Pulling back slightly so she could see the hunger in his eyes, Erik replaced his hand on her cheek and caressed her tempting pink lips. Slowly, so slowly she had no doubts as to his intentions, he lowered his head to hers. If she made a single move or sound of distress, he’d release her immediately, but the desire to show her just how badly he did want her touch was overwhelming. Just before their lips met, Erik hesitated, wanting to give her every opportunity to move if she wished to. His heart soared when she closed the gap and pressed her lips to his. With effort, he kept the kiss gentle, though his body cried out for passion. When he raised his head, Christine’s arms were tight around his neck, her eyes were closed, and she had a dreamy smile on her lips. 
“You see, my love,” Erik’s golden voice flowed over her like warm honey, “I find your touch to be anything but distasteful.” Not wishing to push her after her ordeal, he caressed her cheek before stepping back. Gently removing her hands from around his neck, he planted a kiss on each before laying one upon his arm. “Would you like to sing, mon ange, or shall I play for you?” 
“Will you play for me, Maestro?” Still feeling giddy, Christine was grateful for his arm as he escorted her to the music room.


          Days turned to weeks and seasons came and went, but they all passed relatively unnoticed by the couple in the house on the lake. The gendarmes eventually identified the man in the warehouse but never got any leads on the killer. For a while, Paris was gripped in the unreasonable fear of a vicious murderer such as only the media and gossip can promote. As the days passed with no other deaths, however, a new scandal soon captured their attention and the Comte was forgotten. The Persian’s contacts had found the location of Christine’s father’s grave and both Erik and Madame Giry accompanied her to pay her respects. Slowly, Christine began to heal from Gachot’s torment and agreed to take the stage to fulfill her father’s dreams. La Carlotta was conveniently ill that night, and Christine triumphed. That night also brought her to the attention of an old acquaintance; someone she had long forgotten. 
          “Christine Daaé, where is your scarf?” A huge bouquet of roses was followed by a dashing young nobleman into her dressing room. 
          “I beg your pardon, Monsieur?” Christine frowned as the young man entered without knocking or waiting for permission. Who does he think he is? I’m in my dressing gown, for pity’s sake! 
          “Surely you remember,” the gentleman placed the bouquet on her vanity and smiled his most charming smile, “I was only fourteen and soaked to the skin…” 
          “…because you’d gone into the sea to fetch my scarf.” Christine finished for him with no little amount of irritation. “Vicomte de Chagny, to what do I owe this pleasure?” The last word was stressed as if his intrusion was anything but. 
          “Come now, Christine, don’t be so formal! I’ll give you five minutes to change and then I’ll take you out to dinner.” He turned to leave. 
          “No.” A single word spoken in the calmest of tones stopped the nobleman at the door. Surprised, he turned back to the young singer certain he’d heard her incorrectly. 
          “I’m sorry, did you need more time?” 
          “I fear you have been misinformed, Monsieur le Vicomte, if you believe me to be like some of the other singers here…” 
          “Of that I’m well aware, Christine, for you have the voice of an angel!” His blithe interruption only served to irritate her further. 
          “What I meant, Monsieur, is that I’m tired and wish to rest; therefore…” 
          “Oh, I won’t keep you out late. Never fear!” 
          “If you would shut up, you pompous fool; I’m trying to tell you I’m not going to dinner with you. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph but you’d try the patience of a saint!” The fact that he was just standing in her doorway gaping at her like a fish fueled her anger. “Did it never occur to you, Monsieur le Vicomte, that this is a lady’s dressing room and you should have knocked before entering? Perhaps you are used to barging in on females in the midst of dressing but I am not used to entertaining gentlemen in my dressing gown. I am not going to dinner with you. I am not going to ‘entertain’ you for the benefit of your patronage. What I am going to do is finish preparing for bed. A bed I will sleep in alone. Good night, Monsieur.” 
          During her speech, Christine had managed to push the nobleman the rest of the way out of the door. Though the look of utter shock on his face was more than amusing, she was in no mood to be amused. She was tired. She was hungry. She wanted nothing more than to be with Erik and not some smug, overconfident nobleman. With her last words, she slammed the door in his face and threw the lock. Leaning against it, she watched the mirror slide open with a smile. Taking her Phantom’s hand, Christine returned to her home beyond the lake.

Chapter 18

Chapter Eighteen:
          As he slipped through the front entrance of his home, Erik had mixed emotions about the night’s events. He was greatly relieved that the danger to Christine was over, but now there was no reason for her to remain in his home. What was worse, he knew he could never ask that of her. After two years of hiding, his angel deserved to walk and live in the sunlight. Hanging his cloak and hat with a sigh, Erik made his way towards the office that now served as his bedroom. His clothes were dirty, bloody, and smelled distinctly like horse. He wanted a bath, a brandy, and the pipe organ. In that order. 
          After a thorough bath, he entered the den for his brandy and noticed his favorite chair was occupied with a half-awake Angelique Giry. He wondered just what had happened that she felt it necessary to stay up to wait for him and shot a concerned glance in the direction of Christine’s room. Entering the room and pouring his drink, Erik took a seat across from his friend with a quiet greeting. 
          “It is done, then?” Madame Giry’s voice was low and she, too, stole a glance towards the room that housed his sleeping angel. 
          “Yes. Gachot will no longer be a threat to Christine or your gaggle of little ballet geese.” Before she could ask, he shook his head. “No, you definitely do not want to know, my friend.” She sighed and nodded in acceptance, knowing that when Erik was this adamant, it was for a good reason. 
          “Erik…what happened to Christine while she was with Gachot?” 
          “I can only guess what went on inside the carriage,” Erik sighed and placed his empty glass on a side table and ran a hand through his hair. Remembering the things his angel had been subjected to, his tone sharpened and his anger grew once more. “When they exited, she was completely unclothed and he was letting his driver stare at her nakedness. He…strapped her to shackles hanging from the ceiling and…and began…touching her. Touching her in places he had no right to even dream of, much less place his filthy hands!” Standing, he began to pace in front of the fireplace. “I couldn't go to her immediately; there were guards posted. And they were allowed to watch his disgusting violation of my angel. One of them even…he had the nerve to…” Turning abruptly, Erik grabbed the empty glass and threw it at the fireplace before collapsing onto his knees. “I had to get rid of them, Angelique. I had to! But my poor angel, my Christine…” 
          She slid from the chair to wrap her arms around him when he began to sob. He resisted her comforting embrace for a moment before hiding his masked face in her shoulder. Angelique murmured soothing words, rubbing his back like she would a child, until he finally got his emotions back under control. Embarrassed, Erik pulled away and sat with his back against the chair he’d recently vacated. Staring at the ceiling, his voice was emotionless as he continued. 
          “When I was finally able to get to get to him, the bastard was doing things…he’d disrobed entirely…” His eyes and voice grew hard though there was a hint of malicious satisfaction in the slight upward turn of his lips. “I replaced my angel in those shackles with his own filthy hide and encouraged the warehouse’s occupants to keep him company while I brought her here to you. He received no more than he deserved and I was most disappointed I couldn't spend more quality time with him.” 
          “You need to speak to her, Erik, when she awakens. I slipped her some laudanum to ensure she rested tonight and didn't try anything foolish.” Angelique returned to her chair; she was too old to crawl about on the floor. 
          “Foolish? What do you mean?” He immediately locked his amber gaze on her face in concern. “She’s not going to try to…harm herself, is she?” 
          “I truly don’t know,” She gave a deep sigh and averted her eyes to stare into the fireplace. “She asked me to lead her to the street as she felt she’d no longer be welcome here. She’d planned on disappearing. That’s why I drugged her drink; I couldn't be certain I could remain awake and didn't want her roaming the tunnels alone.” 
          Somewhat embarrassed, and angry at his embarrassment, Erik explained what Gachot was doing when he wrapped the lasso around his neck. Angelique nodded in understanding; that was why Christine was so upset. She blamed herself for her body’s natural reaction to sexual stimuli. Now it was her turn to throw her hair into disarray by dragging her fingers through it. How would she ever convince the girl that she wasn't perverted or sick?


          Rousing from her drug-induced sleep, Christine’s head was pounding and she could have sworn something small and furry had died in her mouth, as it had such an awful taste. Her body felt heavy, like she’d just left the lake after a swim, and she struggled to sit up. A large but gentle hand wrapped around her shoulders to lend support as the pillows were lifted and placed behind her. She’d know that touch anywhere and kept her eyes on her hands, which had twisted together in her lap. Christine could only hope that he’d not make things more difficult than they needed to be, but feared he was there to do just that. 
          “Good morning, mon ange.” God, did his voice have to be as gentle and soft as his touch? “How are you feeling?” 
          “I’m fine, Monsieur,” her words were barely a whisper as anything more would have triggered the tears she was fighting to hold inside. “If you will return my clothing, I’ll be gone as soon as I've changed.” 
          The bed dipped as he sat beside her and claimed one of her shaking hands. “If you speak of those horrible rags I first met you in, they have finally been disposed of.” One of his hands released hers and reached out to softly caress her cheek but stopped short of actually touching her. He can’t bear to touch me now. Christine felt tears slip through her defenses and escape down her cheeks. “What is wrong, mon ange?” 
          “N…nothing, Monsieur.” The lie was obvious as she shook from the effort of stopping her tears. They continued to escape, however, and were multiplying in numbers and force. She nearly broke down when he tenderly cupped her cheek and brushed her tears away with his thumb.
          “Your tears tell me otherwise, my dear.” Erik’s whisper was as tender as his touch and she covered his hand with hers and held it close to her face. 
          “I have to go, Monsieur, surely you know that. I can’t stay; you can’t want me to stay. Not now. Not anymore. No one will….” Her voice caught and, before she knew what he was intending, Erik had pulled her close and wrapped her in his comforting arms. The final thread of control snapped and Christine clung to the lapels of his coat as she cried once more. 
          “Sshhh, mon ange. It’s over now. Erik will never let anyone hurt his Christine ever again.” She could barely feel the soft touch of his lips upon her hair and wondered if she was imagining it. “You are safe now.” He continued to stroke her hair gently as his soothing voice calmed her tears. 
          “Thank you, Monsieur.” Christine finally got her emotions locked down once more and attempted to move from his embrace but found herself held fast. 
          “You once called me Erik, mon ange.” Leaning back, his amber eyes gazed down at her with tenderness and none of the disgust she’d expected to see. “You are also suffering under a vastly erroneous assumption. You may stay here for as long as you wish; you are always, and forever will be, welcome in Erik’s home.” Leaning back, he smiled and wiped the tears from her cheeks before laying her back against the pillows. “Angelique shall be here momentarily with your breakfast, my dear. After you have eaten and dressed, I would be honored if you would join me in the den.” He rose at her nod and placed a light kiss, the barest brush of his lips, on her forehead before he left the room. 
          Within a few minutes, a soft rap on her door preceded Angelique Giry with a breakfast tray. Setting it across her legs, the older lady apologized to Christine about the laudanum and assured her that nothing on the tray held anything of a similar nature. While she ate, Madame Giry pulled out a gown and all the required underthings and laid them on the end of the bed. It was clear there was something she wished to say, but just as clear that she didn't quite know how to begin. Only after Christine set the tray aside did the ballet mistress broach the subject of what had happened at the warehouse and the girl’s response.


          In the den, Erik paced fretfully. Angelique had explained Christine’s distress and, on an intellectual level, he fully understood. According to the many texts he’d studied, the female anatomy had several lesser and one major erogenous zones. Gachot had known this and used that knowledge to his advantage so that, even in death, he still held sway over the young woman. Like the abuse he’d forced upon the child two years ago, and the humiliation of the night before, it was all about power. What better hold could Gachot have over Christine than for her to project all her hate and loathing for her tormentor onto herself? In that way, his power would never dim.  
          Erik knew he wasn't a saint; in fact, he wasn't even a good man, really. The evidence for that lay in an abandoned warehouse at the mercy of the rats and other vermin. Therefore, he didn't understand why he was so unnerved to know that Christine had responded to Gachot’s touch for any reason. He knew it had been both unwilling and unwanted, a simple matter of anatomy. He also knew that he had far more blemishes on his soul, some of which he even enjoyed, than this one transgression. Why, then, did this bother him so much? 
          Clenching his hands into tight fists, Erik wished he’d left Gachot alive so he could take his confusion and frustration out on his filthy, perverted hide. He couldn't blame his angel; she was the victim in all this and was doing a fair job of blaming herself already. No, he had to put his anger, his disgust, and his hatred onto the one responsible and then he had to bury it with him. Erik knew that he had to be strong for his Christine; she was hurting in ways he’d never understand. He would do whatever it took to make her happy, even if that meant he must remove himself from her life forever.


          Across town in an abandoned warehouse, the banging of a carriage against a bay door alerted a patrolling gendarme. Investigating the warehouse, the seasoned veteran found a nobleman’s carriage hitched to a matching pair of horses that were trying to back out of the building. The gendarme found the latch and pulled open the bay doors to lead the animals outside. Tying them to a lamp post, he returned to discover what had upset them so. The odor of death, faint at the bay doors, grew stronger as he advanced into the building. His footsteps echoed loudly as he approached what appeared to be the carcass of a dead animal swarming with flies and rats. Upon closer inspection, he was horrified to learn that the pile of chewed flesh and bone wasn't a stray dog or some other animal but the remains of a human being. He stumbled out the door into the cool morning air in an effort to keep the contents of his stomach where they belonged. Catching another patrol, the gendarme sent them for help. It was going to be a long day. 

Chapter 17

Chapter Seventeen:
A Feast for the Rats
The ride back to the Garnier was silent and quick as the horse could maneuver far more easily than a cumbersome carriage. Erik made sure to keep his eyes firmly on the horse as he helped Christine down, knowing the jacket she wore did little to cover her luscious body. He guided her into the tunnels beneath the opera house and up the stairs instead of heading for his home. When they came to an opening, she understood; they were outside of Madame Giry’s room. Silently he slid open the well-oiled mirror and gestured for her to stay in the darkened tunnel. 
“Angelique?” A quick search revealed the room to be quite empty so he reentered the tunnel and closed the mirror behind him. Taking her hand, they began their descent towards his home. 
Christine followed quietly and as quickly as she could. She stumbled a few times after stepping on a particularly pointy rock until Erik realized the problem and picked her up to carry her the rest of the way. Her protest sounded feeble even to her own ears and she wasn't surprised when he ignored it. He had yet to speak to her or even look at her since they left the warehouse, and greatly feared their time together was soon to come to an end. Why else would he have gone to Madame’s room first? 
When they finally reached the house on the lake, they discovered a visitor awaited them just outside the door. Madame Giry had negotiated the tunnels immediately after the performance and had been pacing ever since. The relief on her face was palpable when they entered the circle of light cast by her lantern. 
“Erik?” Her voice was hushed believing Christine to be sleeping. “Is she…well?” 
“I hope so, Angelique,” he answered softly. “Will you stay with her tonight?” 
At her nod, Erik carried Christine straight to her room and bade her to bathe and dress for bed. She desperately wanted to ask him to stay with her but feared what he’d think if she did. As he quietly closed the door behind him, she hoped he couldn't hear her heart breaking. With a muffled sob that threatened to totally dissolve her tentative hold on her emotions, she entered the luxurious bathroom. Christine shook at the effort to maintain control while she ran the bath as hot as she could tolerate it. Once she had sank into its scalding depths, she could hold it back no more and wept as she scrubbed her skin until it was raw. She knew from experience that mere soap would never remove the feeling of that man’s hands from her body and, as she scrubbed, she remembered his words and felt a greater shame. The knowledge that he’d been right; towards the end she had felt her body respond to him. That realization had her leaning over the toilet to empty her stomach. She truly was a whore to have obtained any amount of pleasure from his evil hands. 
Christine slowly rose from the tub and dried herself with a fresh towel. She couldn't stay knowing what she was; he deserved so much better than she could ever be. Madame Giry knew the way out; she would beg her to lead her out of the tunnels once Erik was asleep. Searching through her clothing, Christine found the simplest dress and donned it quickly. Her sobs were becoming harder and harder to control and, as she was braiding her hair, there was a knock on the door and Erik’s sweet voice requesting entry. To hide her clothing, she quickly jumped into the bed and pulled the sheets all the way to her chin before calling for him to enter. 
Erik stood silhouetted in the doorway, a calm yet powerful presence. “Angelique will sit with you while I’m out in case you wake in the night and need something. I must check on the warehouse but should be back before dawn. Good night, Christine. You are safe now.” He stepped back before she could say anything and was replaced by the ballet mistress. Just before the bedroom door had closed, she heard Erik leave the house and with him rode her last thread of control. She accepted the motherly comfort of Madame’s embrace as she finally succumbed to tears she could no longer keep locked inside. 
“Christine, child, why are you dressed instead of in a nightgown?” Angelique’s soft murmur was accompanied by a tender hand stroking her hair. 
“Madame, please. You must show me the way through the tunnels. I need to be gone before Er…Monsieur Devereaux returns.” 
“Whatever for, child? Erik would never hurt you or turn you out.” 
Carefully extracting herself from Angelique’s arms, Christine brokenly relayed the entire dreadful story. She began on that night two years ago, confessed her feelings for her masked host, and ended with what had occurred earlier as well as her disgusting and sinful reaction. Barely coherent by the time she was finished, she begged her one more time to help her leave. As she listened, Madame encouraged Christine to drink some cold, soothing water to ease her parched throat. Slowly, the girl’s eyes drooped until she finally gave in to the laudanum that’d been placed in the drink. She and Erik had much to discuss as soon as he returned.


          Riding the carriage horse once more, Erik made his way back to the warehouse while fueling the murderous fury towards Gachot. Once in the alley containing the building he sought, he dismounted and silently approached to ensure all was as he’d left it. Satisfied, he guided the horse back inside, hitched it to the carriage once more, and closed the bay door before advancing on his prey. A vicious grin tugged at his lips as he stared at Gachot’s bleeding body as it provided a meal for a large rat and a horde of insects. The man was either dead or unconscious for he never moved even though the animal scurried up his leg to gnaw at the gaping wounds scattered along his body. 
          Shooing the rat away, Erik examined the body closely and discovered a weak but steady heartbeat. Chuckling in anticipation, he produced smelling salts from his pocket and waved them under his captive’s nose. With consciousness came the pain and Gachot’s screams were muffled against the gag as he jerked against his now-bloody restraints. Amused as he was, Erik didn't want to be constantly reviving the man and so injected him harshly with a mixture of morphine and cocaine to stave off both pain and sleep. Thrashing turned to twitching and screams turned to moans. Erik removed the gag and smiled at his captive. Now the real fun began. 
          “Well, well, well, Monsieur le Comte, you seem to have attracted several guests in the small time I’ve been away. How impolite of you to start the party without me.” 
          “You bastard.” Gachot was riding high on the drugs but retained enough sense to attempt to goad Erik into killing him quickly. 
          “I fear I must correct you, Monsieur. My parents were, indeed, married before she spat out my hideous self from her womb. Can you believe it? She called me a monster, Monsieur! A monster for merely being born with this face.” Pulling off the mask, he watched with fascinated amusement as Gachot recoiled in horror. “What she didn't know,” he continued, “was that the true monsters of the world hide behind a pleasing countenance and pretty words. Very much like yourself, wouldn't you say, Monsieur?” 
          While he was talking, Erik had laid a bag upon the discarded chair and opened it to reveal hypodermics and vials, knives and saws, and a variety of powders and pliers. All the essentials he’d need. Even in his drug-numbed state, Gachot recognized implements of torture when he saw them. Renewing his struggles against the restraints, he tried to reason with the Opera Ghost. 
          “I’m not a monster, Monsieur. The little whore was of the lower class, and what else are they good for if not to service their betters? If it hadn't been me, it would have been someone else and I paid her well for her time.” 
          “How dare you!” Throughout his long and violent life, Erik had never heard someone be so casually cruel to another and feel it was their right to do so. “She was a grieving child that you very nearly destroyed with your twisted, perverted lusts. No one, no matter what her station in life, deserves that.” 
          Shaking with fury, Erik shoved the sock back into Gachot’s mouth and chose a pair of pliers. Gripping the edge of the chewed skin on his thigh, he viciously tore away a large chunk of flesh while his victim screamed and thrashed violently against his restraints. Before he could pass out from pain again, Erik sprinkled the powder from one of the packets in his kit which rendered the wound numb for a time. He hated to provide relief for the man, but hadn't realized Gachot’s pain tolerance was so very low. He hadn't brought enough cocaine to keep him awake. And he definitely needed to be awake. 
          Wiping the pliers with his victim’s own shirt, Erik chose a pair of tin snips and held them up to Gachot’s face. Deliberately taking his time, he started with the right hand, the hand that had been so vilely touching his angel, and snipped off first the pinkie, then the ring finger, continuing with each until he reached the thumb. Once he was finished, he started on the other hand. His movements were slow and methodical, allowing enough time for the pain to dim slightly before the next digit was removed. The gag had long since fallen from his lips and the warehouse echoed with his tortured screams. Only twice did Erik have to jolt him awake with the cocaine; he was actually quite impressed. 
          “Kill me,” Gachot’s voice was harsh as he pushed the words painfully through a throat raw from his screams. Erik ignored him and calmly cleaned the snips before returning them to the kit. “Please God, just kill me.” 
          “Oh, I shall, Monsieur le Comte, but all in good time.” 
Glancing around the warehouse, Erik retrieved a length of rope and some small iron bars. While Gachot watched, he used the body of the man’s jacket as a bag to hold as much of the iron as possible. The Phantom hummed the aria from Hannibal as he cut a piece of rope to bind the bundle securely. His captive’s eyes watched every movement with a fear compounded by the unknown. He had no idea what the heavy bag was going to be used for but knew it couldn't be good. Unraveling a shorter length of rope, Erik took one thin segment and tied one end to the ropes that held the bag closed. On the other end, he made miniature noose. 
“You see, monsieur, killing is like any other skill. One must practice it often to perfect it. While I have kept a fairly low profile since my return from Persia, some things become so ingrained that you never forget them no matter how long you wait between performances. It’s called muscle memory, monsieur, and is integral to perfecting such things as sword fighting or playing a piano.” Holding up the thin piece of rope, he estimated it was about a foot long, maybe less. Satisfied, he took another strand and tugged to see if it would withstand weight without snapping. “I must commend you, monsieur, on choosing this warehouse. The quality of rope in such a decayed building is surprisingly excellent.” Erik executed a small, mocking bow while tipping an imaginary hat. 
          “I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know I’m preparing the finale, monsieur. While I’d love to keep you with me for weeks, I fear your screams will soon bring the gendarmes and that simply will not do.” As he continued in his conversational tone, Erik had removed the needle from one of the hypodermics already filled with a thick, golden liquid. “Honey, monsieur. You seemed to have so much fun while I was away. I've decided to let your friends return to keep you company.” He set about squirting a small amount of the sweet, sticky substance into every wound on Gachot’s body. Once he doused the lights, the vermin would swarm for a taste. 
          “My God, you are a monster! Just kill me, you bastard. Don’t leave me to the rats.” Erik ignored the man’s terrified pleas and packed his kit of everything but the honey filled syringe and the Comte’s own dagger. For the first time since he’d entered the building, the Opera Ghost’s golden eyes burned deep into Gachot’s panicked ones. 
          “You aren't fit to feed the fleas on the rats’ filthy hides, you pitiful excuse for a human being. You nearly destroyed one of the world’s only angels and for that I am pleased to be the one to usher your filthy soul to hell. Do wait for me, Monsieur le Comte, for I know I will join you there when my time comes and then we shall continue this little game.” 
          Before he knew what was happening, Erik had looped the small noose around the bulbous head of his victim’s now-flaccid organ and dropped the bag of iron. Gachot’s screams echoed throughout the warehouse and increased in volume when a long slice was cut into the tender skin and filled with the remainder of the honey. Erik doused the lights and retreated into the shadows to wait and watch. It didn't take long for the sweet scent of honey and the acrid tang of blood to entice the rats that lived within the warehouse’s walls. After less than two hours, it was plain to see that Gachot was dead. Now, he could return to his angel.

Chapter 16

Chapter Sixteen:
Vengeance is Mine, I Will Repay, So Sayeth the Lord
          As the carriage rumbled down the dark city streets, Christine felt more and more of her hope fading. She’d not seen Erik since he’d left her in the tunnels. Was he hurt? Had he deserted her? Across from her sat the most evil man she’d ever met in her life and she’d walked right back into his clutches in the hopes of a rescue. A shudder traveled down her spine as she felt his evil eyes on her. Erik said that he was a monster, but he was wrong. A face didn't make a person a monster. Jean-Louis Gachot was a handsome man by anyone’s standards; athletic of build, with dark brown wavy hair and doe-brown eyes that on another man would be nearly irresistible. And yet…Erik was the one who’d taken her in, cared for her, held her while she cried, and wiped away her tears. Gachot had abused her mind, body, and soul to the point she felt worthless. If Erik’s face made him a monster, then Gachot must be the very Devil himself. 
          A shift in the seat beside her had Christine cringing closer to the door even as his fingers twisted painfully in her hair to hold her still. Without saying a word, Gachot removed the hairpins one by one and then loosened her braid so her curls flowed loosely down her back. Keeping a tight grip on her hair, he leaned forward and started on the buttons of her shirt, relishing her whimper of terror and her elevated heart rate. Desperately, she tried to push his hand away but he merely tightened his hold and pulled her head back until she cried out in pain. Satisfied she’d learned her lesson, he returned his attention to her shirt and then to the band she’d wrapped around her chest to conceal her womanly figure. 
          “Do not even dream of covering yourself, my dear.” His murmur was coldly whispered into her ear even as her hands were rising to her breasts. Her tears flowed harder as she dropped her hands back to her lap. Christine captured her bottom lip in her teeth hard enough to break the skin to keep from screaming when he grabbed one of her breasts in his hand and cruelly and painfully fondled it. “These past two years have been good to you. You’re now a woman instead of the child I remember. How many have had you since, my dear? How many have you spread your legs for?” Abruptly, he released her and moved to the seat opposite. “Undress.” 
          “Wh…what?” Her face, already pale with fear and pain, turned a sickly shade of white. “No! I can’t…please don’t…” 
          “What did you say?” One dark brow arched in disbelief and Christine whimpered at the anger building in his eyes. “I thought I heard you tell me no. I’m sure I was mistaken… wasn't I?” 
          Terrified, Christine dropped her eyes and began working on the ties of her trousers. Her hands shook so badly she was having trouble with the knots. Gachot, running out of patience, pulled a knife from his jacket and sliced through the laces. With her trousers cut nearly in half, it wouldn't be long before she was naked and totally at his mercy. Even as she slid the ruined cloth down her legs, she prayed fervently that Erik was nearby.


          Carefully hidden, Erik prayed to the god he never truly believed in to keep his angel safe. He had no way of knowing what was happening inside and it ate at his soul; Gachot didn't seem like a man who cared to wait to slake his disgusting lusts. The thoughts of what Christine had to be suffering at that monster’s hands made him curse this fool of a plan even more than before. Before his anger could cloud his judgment, the carriage pulled up to a run-down warehouse whose bay doors were already open and waiting. The sound of their closing echoed throughout the building and sent fear into his heart. He would have to act soon; he’d not have his angel violated again. 
          The coachman climbed down and opened the door for his master and his plaything; lustily and openly ogling her now-naked body. He and Gachot laughed at some shared joke before Christine was dragged over to the far wall and shackled hand and foot. He gave her an order too quiet for Erik to hear and, when she didn’t obey immediately, the Comte slapped her hard across her face and split her already bleeding lip even more. The darkness very nearly stole away rationale and Erik was hard pressed not to reveal his presence and rescue his Christine. With great effort, he reigned in his murderous fury; if there were more men in the warehouse, he’d do his angel no favors by getting careless now. While Gachot was distracted, Erik slid silently from beneath the carriage and caught the coachman with an expertly thrown lasso. Quickly pulling him close to cover his mouth, he whispered a question in the man’s ear and received a quick shake of denial. There were no others in the building. Unfortunately for the coachman, Erik had seen the way the man’s eyes had darted towards one of the doors and his punishment for the lie was a quick tug that left the man on the floor quite dead. 
          Sparing a glance at Gachot and Christine, he nearly gave away his position at what he saw. The man was touching his angel in places he had no right to. Already there were bruises forming on the fair skin of her breasts and thighs. Desperate now to hasten the man into eternal torment, Erik hugged the shadows as he crept towards the door the coachman had indicated. Once more he gave a silent prayer, this time that the hinges were well-oiled, and was rewarded when the door swung open silently. There were two men at the window watching Gachot; one was leaning against the wall with a cruel smile on his face while the other had pulled up a chair and lowered his trousers to bare his throbbing manhood. He even had the temerity to stroke himself as he watched his boss violate the girl. Erik smiled maliciously as the lights inside the small room went out. His evil laughter, though too soft for anyone outside to hear, was the last sound the two men heard. Erik turned to stare out the window as the last of the two bodies hit the floor. 
          Hold on, my love, the Angel of Death has come to free you.


          Every part of her body ached; her wrists were cut and bleeding from the shackles that held her upright, her breasts were stinging from his constant pinching and harsh groping, her face throbbed from his slap, and the area between her legs burned from his torturous probing fingers. Christine hadn't seen Erik and was sinking further and further into despair. 
          “You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself, my dear.” Gachot’s cruel chuckle sent a frisson of pure terror down her spine which increased exponentially when he began removing his clothing. “I suppose what you’re waiting for is a repeat of our first glorious night together, hmm? Oh, but let’s not be dull, my little whore. Variety is the spice of life, you know, and I’m sure you've learned much in the last two years.” Mute with fear, Christine watched as his jacket and waistcoat were joined by his shirt, shoes, and trousers. Once more he stood before her, naked and aroused. Once more she was helpless and at his mercy. 
          Placing a chair between her splayed legs, Gachot sat and ran his hands up her thighs to cruelly probe her once more. Her desperate cries and attempts to avoid his painful touch only served to arouse him more and he continued his assault while stroking his aching erection. 
          “Do you know what, my dear? Though I want nothing more than to fuck you until you beg for mercy, I have thought of something even better. Something that will break you, destroy you, and make you mine forever.” He smiled up at her and she shook with fear at the mad glint in his eye. “I’m going to make you enjoy it.” 
          Holding her hips in an iron grip, Gachot leaned forward and ran his tongue up the abused and stinging flesh and savored her gasp of shock. Oh yes…this was going to be even better than strangling that little ballet rat while he fucked her, watching the life fade from her eyes as he exploded inside her tight body. This would be destroying a mind. Spreading her open with his thumbs, he lapped at the tiny bud that was the key to a woman’s pleasure. Chuckling evilly when he felt her shudder, he inserted one long finger deep inside her. 
          “Can you feel that, my little whore? You’re so wet. You want me now, don’t you? You want…” 
Suddenly, Gachot was jerked away from her and, after a brief moment, the shackles were being removed from her ankles and wrists. Daring to open her eyes, she nearly fainted when she was wrapped in Erik’s coat and held close to him. She clutched at his shirt desperately; scared he was a figment of her imagination and would disappear if she let him go. He held her close, stroking her hair with the lightest of touches while his heart broke as she dissolved into tears. 
“You’re safe now, mon ange. No one will ever hurt you again, Erik swears it. You’re safe.” 
“Is…is he dead?” Christine’s whisper was ragged from her tears and ordeal as she kept a tight hold onto his shirt. 
“Not yet.” She shuddered at his grim tone and dared to glance down at the man she hated with every fiber of her being. She felt something within her freeze and harden as she realized he was now in her control. 
“He’s mine, Erik.” 
Pulling back from her slightly, Erik studied her face for a long, silent moment before nodding. He ached to think of his angel willingly flying towards damnation but knew she needed closure and she deserved to have her vengeance. Smoothing her hair from her face, he lightly caressed her cheek. 
“What do you want me to do, mon ange?” He followed her gaze to the shackles and nodded. It took slightly longer to place the unconscious man into the restraints than it had to remove his angel. 
By the time Gachot was limply hanging against the wall, Christine had searched for and found the dagger he’d used to cut her trousers in the carriage. Though the knife shook in her hand, it was clear what she had to do. Because of him, her life had been ruined at sixteen. Because of him, she’d become a murderer. Because of him, she’d never know love or have a family because he’d tainted her body with his filthy seed and no one could ever want her now. 
“Are you sure you want to do this, my angel?” Erik’s soft voice broke into her muddied thoughts. “No one will think less of you if you do not.” 
“I will, Erik. He took everything from me. Everything! My innocence, my happiness, my future, all destroyed at his hand and for what? Physical pleasure? Power? No, I have to do this.” Her tears were silent rivers on her cheeks but she held his gaze steadily. With a small nod, Erik stepped back and out of her way. He fully understood her need to destroy the monster that’d haunted her dreams for two years. Hadn't he done the same once upon a time?


          Pulling the coat tighter around her naked body, Christine inhaled the lingering scent of incense that so intrinsically belonged to Erik. The knife felt cold and foreign in her hand. Could she do this? Beauvais was killed out of blind terror for what was to come. The child…she was barely more than a child herself at the time. She knew she never could have supported it without resorting to the most unsavory of professions. She wasn't sure she could have ever loved it as it deserved. But this? This was cold-blooded murder. Closing her eyes, she thought of her father and could feel his disappointment. She heard his sweet voice asking what she hoped to accomplish by such an evil act. Killing him wouldn't bring back her innocence or her happiness; it wouldn't stop the nightmares. What kind of peace did she hope to gain? 
          She looked over at Erik, the man others would call monster but who was more of an angel than she ever was, and knew that Gachot wouldn't leave this warehouse alive regardless of who delivered the fatal blow. Christine knew she loved him and that he felt some affection for her. Could she let go of the past and pray for happiness? Could he love her even though her very soul was tainted? Could she forgive herself if she refused to even try? When Gachot stirred, she made her decision and prayed it was the right one. Turning towards the man she’d hated for so long, she delivered the greatest injury she could think of. 
          “Two years ago, you took something from me, monsieur. In the time between then and now I believed you had succeeded. Well, no more. I finally understand that what I thought you’d taken was the one thing I, myself, gave you. My hope. Every day since that terrible night, I have prayed for this moment. To have you at my mercy, to know your very life lies within my hands, was the greatest thing I’d ever hoped to accomplish. It was all I believe I had to look forward to. I now know that to be untrue.” She looked down at the blade in her hand and then back up at Gachot. 
          “Oh really, my dear. Do you think you’ll ever be free of me? Even in death I’ll haunt you for the rest of your days; in your nightmares, whenever you seek a lover’s touch, in every shadow that follows you down a deserted street. There is nothing you can do that will ever change that.” Even in the face of certain death, Gachot felt he had the upper hand. His brave façade faltered at her gentle laugh and he wondered what she had in store for him. 
          “I can change that, monsieur, and very simply, too. You see, I’m not going to kill you; I’m going to do something even better. I am going to take back my life and allow you no part in it. So, Monsieur le Comte de Lancival, I’m going to forgive you for what you've done to me. And then I will forget you.” Placing the knife on the seat of the chair he once occupied, Christine walked over to her Phantom and wrapped her arms around his waist. Her soft whisper was meant for his ears alone. “He would have forever had control of me if I had lashed out in blind anger and hatred.” 
          “I know, Angel.” Erik placed a soft kiss to the top of her head while glaring at the man who’d very nearly broken her forever. “I simply cannot be so forgiving, Christine.” 
          “I know, Erik, and I will not stop you. Just…be quick. I want to go home.” 
          “Then let us go home, mon ange. I can return to take out the trash later.” 
The smile he gave Gachot at that moment sent a jolt of terror through the shackled man. A few whispered words in Christine’s ear sent her towards the carriage, knowing better than to look back. In order to keep from giving in to her curiosity, she began to unhitch one of the carriage horses. There was no way she was getting back into that coach. The gleam in Erik’s golden eyes unnerved the captive even more than the smile and, as is typical of most who try for power over another, he pleaded for the mercy he’d never shown to others. The masked man merely shook his head. He stuffed one of Gachot’s socks into his mouth and secured it with his cravat. Retrieving the dagger Christine had left on the chair, Erik made several slices into the man’s flesh while carefully avoiding major veins or arteries. 
“I will return in the morning, Monsieur le Comte, to see if the rats have enjoyed their feast. If they have gorged themselves and you yet live, then the pain you've inflicted upon my angel will seem like the faintest brush of a butterfly’s wing when I am through with you.” With a final mocking bow, Erik turned and joined Christine where she waited with the unhitched carriage horse. Helping her onto the horse’s back, he mounted behind her and headed for the Palais Garnier and his house on the lake.